From Free Books for Babies to Eugenics: the Dark Side of Child and Reproductive Health Focussed ‘Philanthropic’ Social Impact Projects

Read Time:14 Minutes

Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, GAVI & the Nutravax Project

Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) is a charity endowed by billionaire Sir Christopher Hohn’s Children’s Investment Fund Management, one of the most profitable hedge funds in the world. CIFF is the largest ‘philanthropy’ foundation focussed specifically on children, and these days ‘climate change’ is where it’s really at; that grant portfolio dwarfs CIFF’s other priority areas of child protection, ‘girl capital’, child health and development, and ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ (SRHR).

See for example this quote from The 2018 Guttmacher–Lancet Commission:

‘Investments in family planning and girls’ education are high on the list of proposed solutions to climate change because these investments increase gender equality, meet women’s expressed needs, and result in lower fertility, all of which benefit the planet as a positive side-effect. Some scientists have quantified the benefits of these two interventions by calculating the reduction in carbon emissions that would result from lower population growth brought about by meeting the global unmet need for contraception.’

Recent headlines highlight Sir Hohn’s £46 million donation to the C40 Cities network co-chaired by Sadiq Khan, ‘helping deliver 50 million good, green jobs by 2030’ and the fact that Hohn was, in 2022, the biggest single donor to Extinction Rebellion, but there is a great deal more to discover about CIFF’s ‘smart philanthropy’.

At the Gavi Vaccine Impact Conference held in Madrid in June 2023 (‘an important convening of global leaders to evaluate the past two years of implementation of the Vaccine Alliance’s five-year strategy against the complex backdrop of COVID-19, and to set out a strong new commitment to vaccination as Gavi…passed the mark of 1 billion children vaccinated since its founding in 2000’), Gavi (‘the Vaccine Alliance’) and CIFF announced a $30 million investment to vaccinate ‘zero dose’ children in Ethiopia in a ‘unique’ ‘integrated immunisation, nutrition, and social protection programme.’ Also at the Conference was The Eleanor Crook Foundation (‘motivated by a single vision: a world in which every mother can nourish her children’) who, with Gavi, there unveiled the NutraVax Project, ‘fund[ing] research to integrate high-impact malnutrition interventions and immunization services.’ It seems likely that we will see more of this type of ‘joint programming’ in the future.

NutraVax is a ‘randomized control trial in Nigeria to test whether providing nutritional supplements as an incentive for vaccination can help solve the challenge of generating demand for vaccination…Specifically…whether providing Small-Quantity Lipid-Based Nutrient Supplements (SQ-LNS) as an incentive to caregivers for updating their children’s vaccinations will lead to increased coverage of the measles vaccine.’  If this project is deemed a ‘success,’ it will be scaled up, possibly becoming part of national health systems. SQ-LNS is the generic term for a commercial ‘food-based’ product (typically containing peanuts, sugar, vegetable oils, milk powder, a mineral and vitamin complex, stabiliser and emulsifier) given to infants aged between six months and two years old who are at risk of chronic malnutrition. ‘[T]hink of it as a fortified protein bar with micronutrients’, says Sir Christopher Hohn. It’s a ‘game changing product’. Even a broadly pro-UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) organisation such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has grave concerns, both on nutritional and cultural grounds, about the use of SQ-LNS and about UNICEF’s recent support for these products’ introduction into nutrition programmes across the world. The IBFAN report notes that Nutriset, a manufacturer of SQ-LNS and other ‘innovative agro-industrial solutions’, is, in Codex Alimentarius negotiations, ‘attempting to undermine essential global safeguards’ and that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are major donors for research into SQ-LNS.

You see, Gavi—i.e. The World BankUNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pfizer, Merck, BMGF, GlaxoSmithKline, etc, plus all the investors who’ve bought vaccine bonds– have a small problem: there are some people who don’t want their children injected with Gavi’s vaccines. And one of the wonderful things about places like Nigeria is that you can not only use the population there to test new drugs and vaccines, but also to trial innovative new ways to increase vaccine uptake that might not be feasible elsewhere, such as offering ultra-processed baby food to parents of malnourished infants in exchange for having their infants vaccinated.

CIFF’s Links to the Eugenics Movement

Several of the organisations which CIFF gives grants to have their roots in the eugenics movement. CIFF has given many millions of dollars to the Population Council for various projects, especially ones which target adolescent girls. The Population Council was founded in 1952 by John D Rockefeller lll, and its first vice-president (who Rockefeller later appointed as the Council’s president) was Frederick Osborn, a man who ‘played an important part in reviving and reorienting the eugenics movement in the years following World War II.’ CIFF granted 75 million dollars to MSI Reproductive Choices and FP2030, to ‘step up’ their work in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2020, MSI Reproductive Choices changed its name from Marie Stopes International due to the controversy over the eugenicist views of the organisation’s namesake. CIFF also gave a $276,000 grant to Marie Stopes Kenya (the Marie Stopes name is still used there) and a $750,000 grant to the Guttmacher Institute, which ‘remains committed to the mission and goals that led to its creation’ and is named after Dr Alan F. Guttmacher, vice-president of the American Eugenics Societypresident of Planned Parenthood, and member of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization (AVS).

(Fun fact: Brock Chisholm, first director-general, from 1948 to 1953, of the WHO, was co-chairman of the AVS International Advisory Committee.) The Guttmacher Institute, The Lancet, and the African Population and Health Research Center (funded by Google, Wellcome, Carnegie Corporation, The Rockefeller Foundation, CIFF, The Royal Society, et al) collaborated on The Guttmacher–Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The Commission, which seeks to influence policy at ‘global, regional and country levels’ explicitly ties the SRHR agenda with the sustainable development agenda, and states that the UN Agenda 2030 does not go far enough.

CIFF is one of the funders of FP2030, a global network of ‘130 governments, foundations, multilateral agencies, civil society organizations, and private sector entities’ founded by the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as ‘FP2020’ at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning. When Bayer, for example, states that ‘[t]he demand for long-acting methods [of contraception] is set to grow considerably in the coming years’ and invests 250 million euros building sustainable, carbon-neutral new ‘long-acting reversible contraceptive’ (LARC) factories, it isn’t because they’re gazing into a crystal ball. It is (at least partly) because FP2030 donors— GitHub co-founder’s Preston-Werner Ventures pledging $3 million, CIFF pledging $325 million, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledging $1.4 billion — stipulate ‘outcomes’ such as ‘support[ing] partners to reach 50 million individuals’ and making ‘self-injectable contraception accessible to four million individuals’ and those ‘partners’ promise to ‘accelerate scale-up of implants in multiple countries’ and ‘reach’ an ‘additional 120 million women in the 69 poorest countries’.

One of several members of FP2030 with historical links to eugenics is EngenderHealth, an organisation which began as the previously-mentioned Association for Voluntary Sterilisation and has had numerous name-changes since it began in 1937. The EngenderHealth emphasis is still on promoting ‘long acting reversible’ or ‘permanent’ contraception (i.e., sterilisation) in over 100 countries in the global South. Other FP2030 members include Pathfinder International, founded as ‘Pathfinder Fund’ in 1957 by eugenicist and Procter & Gamble heir Clarence Gamble; PAI (Population Action International) originally called the Population Crisis Committee and set up after one of its founders read population-control advocate William Vogt’s 1948 book Road to Survival; and the Population Reference Bureau (directed by Gamble between 1945 and 1955), created as a ‘clearinghouse of eugenic information on the population of the United States’.

Many of these NGOs address, or at least acknowledge, their history. The upshot of these statements is that while, in the past, the ‘global family planning movement [was] largely motivated by an interest in population control […] driven by the fear that unchecked population growth in poor countries would threaten the environment, the global economy, and political stability—a perspective [they] now understand as racist and colonialist’, these days their motives are entirely benign and solely about empowering women. However, these organisations are still quite explicitly motivated by an ‘interest in population control’. If they were not, then why the targets? Why the emphasis on ‘high impact practices’? If it’s really all about giving women choices about if, when, and how many children they have, why the AI-powered global data dashboards? Why the barely-disguised obsession with tracking, monitoring and interfering with the bodies of women, and the bodies of the urban poor, now rebranded as ‘marginalised’ ‘underserved’ or ‘hard to reach’ populations (and being set up as impact investment opportunities)? Why the emphasis on ‘modern’ contraception (i.e. replacing traditional methods with pharmaceutical products) and the push for ‘long-acting reversible’ contraceptives, with their attendant health risks and implications for a woman’s future fertility? Why the emphasis on so-called ‘post abortion care’ (PAC) whereby women undergoing emergency treatment for a botched or incomplete abortion are encouraged to accept ‘implants and intrauterine devices […] which can be inserted after PAC and once medical professionals have confirmed that the uterus is empty’? Why the ‘cross-cutting commitment to gender transformative programming’? Does any of that sound like empowering, holistic, woman-centred healthcare to you?

And why the attempt to integrate ‘reproductive health actions with conservation and natural resource management actions’? Just as Gavi are seeking to merge vaccination and nutritional programming, so, increasingly, are organisations such as FP2030 member the Margaret Pyke Trust seeking to merge family-planning and ‘climate and biodiversity action’. After years of their lobbying, it was announced at a Margaret Pyke event at COP28 that, for the first time, the British government will draw a portion of its dues to the World-Bank-hosted Global Financing Facility for Women, Children, and Adolescents —to which it has committed £80 million over five years— from the UK £5.8 billion International Climate Finance fund. This is ‘in the national interest’, because ‘if we do not tackle climate change, it will undo the progress made globally to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.’

Our Common Good’s ‘Growing Minds’ Pilot: ‘School Readiness’ for Disadvantaged Children

CIFF former chief operating officer, and the former senior philanthropy advisor to Sir Christopher Hohn, is Paul Donovan— chairman of Action Artificial Intelligence (who specialise in replacing customer-service staff with ‘delightful, human-like’ virtual assistants) and non-executive director of Arqiva Group Ltd (their smart metering networks deliver 50 million data points every day!) Paul Donovan is a trustee of the Oxfordshire Community Foundation and co-founder of Our Common Good, ‘venture philanthropists’ who design and fund community projects with potential to deliver ‘sustainable impact’ when scaled nationally. Alongside community larders and homelessness research projects, Growing Minds is an Our Common Good ‘school readiness’ project being piloted in Berinsfield and Littlemore—two relatively low-income areas of Oxford— with other areas in Oxfordshire already earmarked for expanding and scaling the project. Growing Minds is implemented via the now-familiar public/private/third-sector partnership model, in this case NHS health visitors, Home-Start volunteers, the register office, ‘early intervention programme’ Peep, local community centres, and ‘evaluation consultants… including the Oxford Universities.’  Beginning in January 2020 and due to run for seven years, the project is an intervention targeting over 800 ‘disadvantaged’ children, who will be tracked from birth to the age of five. When registering their baby’s birth, parents are asked if they’d like a free picture book each month, with those signing up also offered Peep-run playgroup sessions, and home visits from a Home-Start volunteer and a Growing Minds worker. The key measure of the project’s ‘success’ would be an increase in the percentage of those children scoring a ‘Good Level of Development’ in their first year at school.

The Global Parenting Initiative & ‘Parenting in Crisis’

The reference to ‘Oxford Universities’ as one of the Growing Minds evaluation consultants refers, at least in part, to the Department of Social Policy and Intervention (DSPI), which undertook a study about the ‘impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on Growing Minds families’, specifically probing their feelings about receiving Growing Minds support online as opposed to face-to-face.

Another DSPI project (funded by Oak Foundation and the Lego Foundation) is the Global Parenting Initiative (GPI) a ‘research-within-implementation project’ working mainly in the Global South, with the target of reaching 250 million children by 2030 with ‘playful parenting programmes delivered through digital and hybrid human-digital platforms’ such as ParentApp, ParentChat, ParentText (a ‘chatbot parenting intervention’) and Parenting In Crisis, including ‘Covid 19 Parenting’ and ‘Ukraine Parenting’. (Presumably they’re still working on the GazaParent App.)

GPI’s director of research is the founder and former executive director of Clowns Without Borders South Africa, a ‘humanitarian arts-based intervention that provides psychosocial support to vulnerable children and families through humour and play.’ One of GPI’s current research areas is ‘Identifying and Measuring Playful Parenting Using Machine Learning’— creating a new ‘playful parenting’ metric by applying artificial intelligence to video footage of parents interacting with their children. ‘Blue-haired, rainbow-flavoured infantologist at large’, director of Goldsmiths’ InfantLab, and children’s book author Dr Caspar Addyman is a co-investigator on this project.

The Growing Minds pilot scheme has nothing to do with a kindly wish to spark an interest in reading in little children; but everything to do with gathering data to ‘prove’ that the ‘early intervention’ of giving books and playgroup provision to children from low-income families ‘works’ to increase those children’s scores in the narrow, standardised, and relentless statutory testing that British kids are increasingly subjected to. This, in order to seed a market for ‘school readiness’ and ‘early-years literacy’ impact investment. As the United Nations Population Fund’s new approach to creating impact has it: ‘pilot—measure—scale.’ Are the parents who sign up for free books at the registry office and later take their toddler to the friendly free playgroup at the local community centre aware of the true purpose of this scheme? Will they even know that it’s a pilot scheme at all? Note, for example, that the media coverage of the further roll-out of the UK HIV-testing ‘opt-out’ scheme promoted by Elton John made no mention of his Foundation’s recently created (world first) ‘zero HIV’ social impact bond, co-run by Comic Relief, the impact-investment arm of The Big Issue, and various local councils. (Comic Relief, Clowns Without Borders, Lego Foundation, The Big Issue…will any of our sacred cows make it out alive?)

Neo-Colonialism, Racism, ‘Reproductive Health’ & Parenting Impact Projects

It’s time that the conversations on ‘racism’ and ‘colonialism’ included discussions about Western academics ‘using machine learning to assess the quality of mother-infant interactions in low resource settings’ or World-Bank-funded vaccinators targeting and tracking down nomadic communities in remote locations. Or billionaire hedge-fund managers using ‘smart philanthropy’ to funnel money into youth-led ‘grassroots’ organisations tasked with using ‘digital prompts or sociocultural cues’ to change the local people’s behaviour and cultural practices and achieve the desired outcome the bodies of often poor brown and black women colonised with intrauterine-devices, self-injectables, and implants. Or Planned Parenthood and ‘charities’ like the Elton John Aids Foundation bankrolling programmes where young Kenyan women from the very poorest urban neighbourhoods are ‘rewarded’— with tokens exchangeable for sanitary towels and other basic necessities for obeying digital behavioural health ‘nudges’ and inputting ‘user feedback’ to feed real-time data dashboards. Or NHS health visitors and ‘charity partners’ colluding with wealthy businessmen to implement research projects using little children from low-income families as fodder for new impact investment markets. In reality these projects represent an imperialist, racist, colonialist multi-layered system of exploitation fit for this brave new-normal world and the new economic model of impact capitalism, which, with choking irony, wears a mask of environmentalism, social justice, and feminism.  We must not fall for it, but instead keep unearthing the insalubrious connections and asking the difficult questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.